Saturday, September 02, 2006

Sun Valley Task 4

Still cold here, so another late start with relatively stable conditions. The last two tasks have involved flying across the main valley and then over a small pass, and yesterday was the same program except we couldn't get very high on launch, so made the first glide a bit low. I worked hard at launch to get high, but it just wasn't there. I started a bit behind the main gaggle, but basically just flew straight across the valley and only worked the strong lift, and soon found myself at the top of the lead gaggle as we got ready for the pass. One glider got out in front and it seemed to be working for him, so I went into chase mode. The climbs were working really well for me, and soon I was a thermal and glide ahead of the lead gaggle and catching what turned out to be Josh Waldrop. The first turpoint was at about 40K, Wildcat Mountain, and we'd had a battle going south from there on task 3 so I was a bit nervous, especially after watching Waldrop sink out under me. But the climbs were working really well to this point... I waited for one full thermal cycle for the gaggle to catch up to me, only to see Eric Reed and Keith Mac come in under me and sink out. I really wanted someone to fly with for the section south of Wildcat, but with Josh, Eric and Keith gone I started slowly working south figuring the lead gaggle would catch me shortly, but they got stuck on Wildcat... The air felt much more stable, and I just wasn't connecting with good climbs. I bobbled along then got flushed down the side of the ridge into Copper Basin without hitting anything going up--4,000 feet of sink, crazy. A few other people got flushed with slightly more altitude than me and climbed out over my head, then I watched the entire lead gaggle fly slowly over my head, cautiously circling and moving slowly. It's moments like these that can drive me to madness in paragliding comps...

I should have waited for the gaggle, I knew the next 40K would be tough, but it's hard to go from race mode to caution mode. I did slow down, but in that kind of stable air a gaggle is the only way through. File it under lessons learned. Josh Cohn and one other pilot made it to goal, good work!

I'm now out of the hunt for any sort of top-five placing--I really need to compete more regulary to do well, I haven't been focused on paragliding competitions this year and it shows. We might have one more task today, that would be fun!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Task 3 Sun Valley

It's really cold here--yesterday morning the sprinklers were encasing the green lawns in ice as we drove into Sun Valley. Launch was moved back an hour to let things warm up, but the thermals were still pretty weak as we slowly climbed out. I was quite concerned with the winds aloft, which were predicted to be very strong. I've flown enough in Idaho to know that high winds aloft can sometimes drop down to the ground and provide a high-quality ass-kicking. We went over Trail Creek again, and there was a bit of a shear at around 11,000 feet but nothing too nasty. Overall the air was substantially more "growly" than it had been on task 2--Brian commented, "It's clear that when launch is nasty the air is nice, and when launch is nice the air is nasty." Weird.

We had a good aggressive pace going to about the 40K mark, when the day really slowed down. A few pilots went to 17,000 feet and did a long glide to goal, but most of of us battled for the last 20K. I could see there was a valley wind at goal, so took my final climb until my 5020 said I had goal at a 4:1 glide. Of course I came in 2000 feet over the ground like an idiot (waste of time), but I was not going to come up short on my final glide as several pilots did. The Red Bull six-wheel drive vehicle was there with music and a barbecue, pretty good scene. I haven't seen yesterday's results, but things are going to be shaken up pretty seriously due to the top two pilots not making goal. Matt Dadam is likely in first, he had a great day, as did Tom McCune and the hungry Josh Cohn. It was another crazy good day of flying here, and today and tomorrow are both supposed to be better. I'm packing more clothes today, it was below freezing at 14,000 feet, my feet are stil cold. Nicole McLearn had an interesting landing and hike out, we were a bit worried until she finally showed up around 10:00 last night, her story is here. Time to go up the hill and get it on again!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sun Valley Winds

A big cold front is rolling through Sun Valley along with the usual high winds, which put a stop to the meet for the last two days. That's OK, as it was time for another climbing day--we've had three days off from climbing to let our skin heal. We gathered up a good posse of grounded pilots and friends and went back into the lava tube yesterday. It's still hard to believe there's a good climbing area out there in the flat sage brush, but the tube again delivered a lot of desperate pumped climbing and shredded skin. I managed to onsight the remaining 5.12 I hadn't done thanks to some good crowd particpation---I kept blindly dynoing over a lip to a hidden hold, guided by the yells from the crew "An inch higher!" "An inch right!" "No, you halfwit, the OTHER right!" It was comedy. A lively debate ensued about whether an onsight still counted as such with people yelling hold locations to me--none of the crowd had done the route or seen anyone on it, so they couldn't exactly give me beta, but on the other hand it wasn't entirely my skills that got me up it... The debate was solved with beer, I forget how, but that sure was a fun climb, made more so by the group participation. We all shredded our skin to the point where it was impossile to hang onto the sharp basalt for even one more route. I did battle with the tube's hardest established line and got reasonably far on the on-sight before pitching off, a great pump. Lots of fun in a hole in the ground. It's still blowing a hoolie today, so we're going hiking, BASE jumping (not me, I'm done with it), working, etc.

There are some good photos of the PG meet from John Clifford up here, as well as results here. I'm back in a reasonable 9th place and only 230 points out of first after two days, but I know the pace is going to be aggressive the next flying day, a lot of the top pilots failed to make goal last task day and will be in full starving dog-pack mood when we get to fly. The complaint over the conditions on the last task day was resolved, primarily by the big smiles of everyone who got out on course and found the conditions big but definitely reasonable. I have no idea why it was that windy on launch, it was one of the best days of mountain flying I've ever had, just a bit weird off of launch. I'm hoping for three more big tasks, but if we can just get two more flown after the front passes I'd be happy. We need to fly tomorrow or we'll have to go climbing again, it sure does suck to be here in Idaho, grin...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

U.S. Paragliding Nationals, lava tubes

Sun Valley, site of one this year's US paragliding Nationals, is one of those ultra-rich resort towns in an incredible place. Kim and I arrived a couple of days early to fly, but the first day was too windy so we went for a hike and then headed down south to a very unusual climbing area--a lava tube. There are no mountains around the lava tube, just a huge flat sage brush plain for as far as the eye can see. We couldn't believe there was climbing there, it was odd to walk through the sage and find a pit in the ground. The climbing was super-steep thuggery out the side of the pit, lots of fun. We had a good crew and a good session, only leaving at sunset with lots of ripped skin and sore muscles. I was psyched to send two hard routes (for me), I'm starting to climb decently again and it's a lot of fun.

Day one of the nationals was fantastic, about a 100K task north over the mountains. I was slightly in front of the field as neared about the 15K mark, and had to choose between taking the line with clouds or staying close to the road. I went for a line directly over the heart of the Sawtooths with Len, and the next two hours were simply stunning flying from cloud to cloud with nothing but alpine lakes and big granite cliffs below us. Unfortunately our line was less direct and we ended up being a bit slower to goal, but just flying over such stunning alpine terrain was absolutely worth it. Len landed a bit short of goal, but I was paranoid about my final glide and worked a last thermal higher than I needed to before going on glide and made it in a bit late but with tons of altitude. I'd rate the flight along the Sawtooths one of the top ten flights of my life--I saw a hundred places that I need to visit, and I like flying deep in the mountains. It would have been a very full day walk out if we hadn't found the next thermal, but I was loving the terrain and wouldn't really have minded a nice walk out. Len and I never got low, and of course my oxygen system promptly stopped working so I spent a lot of the day over 15,000 and had a hypoxia headache at the end of the day. Well worth it.

Day two brought an even longer task--125K to the west and north. Launch conditions were a bit erratic and windy, but I watched the pilots in the air and it looked OK so I launched. Unfortunately I just couldn't connect with a good climb for the next 30 minutes. I was wondering why some pilots weren't launching as it was a bit windy but not too bad, I think the combination of less than stellar launch conditions and the prospect of a long task preyed on peopele's minds. Flying is mental, it's always a trick to correctly match one's perception of the conditions with the reality. I know conditions over launch were reasonable as I had to take a pee, so if the glider flew fine for a few minutes without input then it wasn't that whacky.

On course it was tricky as the tops of the climbs weren't that high, and we struggled a bit to get established after crossing the first valley. The first turnpoint took down most of the lead gaggle, and I came in just as they were dirting. I had one of those stupid lucky thermals low and got out with Brian and Dean, then went on one of the most entertaining flights I've had in a long time. We cut the corner between the roads, and were, as they say around here, "deep." The terrain was sun-blasted sage and rolling hills so landing would have been OK, but we were for sure a 20K walk from any reasonable road. Even at 16,000 we would have had a long walk... But there was a good cloud street, so deep we went, and the clouds worked perfectly. About 20km from goal I got low on a after a valley cross, and for some reason it just didn't work despite being perfectly west facing... I realized as I sunk lower and lower that I didn't have a glide out of the bowl I was in, but it was possible to slope-land if I had to. It was frustrating to watch Brian and Dean fly away at base, I'm not sure if I was tired or just had a bit of bad luck. In the end I grovelled out and made it to goal for the longest comp task I'd ever flown, and possibly in US paragliding history. Pretty cool, about 12 people made it in, with Abby, who flew most of the task by himself, winning the day. Nice one Abby!

Unfortunately there was a formal complaint about the launch conditions, and an effort to get the day cancelled. Conditions were a bit windy and messy, but it was far safer yesterday on the Baldy launch than it normally is at other "big" sites such as Chelan. You had to wait for a reasonable cycle to launch in, but there wasn't much chaos once in the air--I'd say the air over launch was mellower than it had been the first day, but the perception on the ground was that it was bad so about 30 people didn't launch. I respect their decision, but the complaint was a bit much given that the air was fine. Each of the previous two days of flying had brough at least one reserve ride and injury, yesterday was totally safe, so I think the people who didn't fly made a good decision for them. I'm not sure Sun Valley is the best place for a non-selective paragliding competition--it's fine for those who enjoy flying "deep" and are used to high-altitude big-air flying, but it's full-on flying for sure. In the end each paragliding day, whether in a competition or not, is up to individual pilots to evaluate. Those who didn't fly yesterday lower the potential points for the day, so that's a legitmate form of saying, "Conditions were more than I wanted to do battle with."

Today is blown out, so we're going back to the lava tubes for another afternoon of skin shredding action!